Some people run marathons. Some people write novels. A few people even read all of Finnegans Wake. My point is that everyone has some goal in mind that is both ambitious yet achievable, and this year I set out to finally achieve my goal of seeing all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar ceremony. I know, it’s formidable.
This ambition formed a few years ago; it seemed very possible once I turned 18, but the Academy was not going to make things easy. In 2009, after forgetting The Dark Knight, the category was doubled to 10 films. Challenge accepted.
During the fall, as studios release their best bets, the term “Oscar bait” gets tossed around. It means the film is serious, possibly distressing, and most likely relates to a specific social issue. I have trouble motivating myself to see these films, and in 2009 the Academy nominated The Blind Side, Precious, and An Education. I have still not seen any of them. This probably damages my film buff reputation, but I’d like to think my time was better spent watching District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and the not-nominated Star Trek (three times).
I persisted, and when Oscar season returned, I was fully committed. I had a job working for a video store, so I had advance (and free) access to every new release. The list came in and most of the films were already available. I watched Black Swan and swore to never take ballet. I watched The Kids Are All Right and decided more movies should start with Vampire Weekend songs. I watched Winter’s Bone and found something to replace the Fargo wood chipper in my nightmares. Buried under Toy Story 3, Inception, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network, however, was 127 Hours. I had a month to see it, but when the director of 28 Days Later makes a film about a guy who has to cut off his own arm, the squeamish agoraphobe inside of me takes over.
Third time lucky, right? Only nine films this time. I saw The Artist the day it opened, which exceeded expectations and relit my love of silent films. I saw Hugo, which made me see the potential value in 3D for more than sci-fi spectacle. I saw Midnight in Paris, which reassured me that Woody Allen could still write a film without a narrator intruding every three minutes, but the Academy had fallen into that Oscar bait trap again. Despite it’s good script and a cast highlighted by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, The Help was advertised like it was the story of white people ending racism, so I could not bring myself to watch it until months later when it was released on DVD.
Nine films were announced on Jan. 10 by Emma Stone and this year’s host Seth MacFarlane. I had seen Argo because I like true stories. I had seen Django Unchained because I like Tarantino and don’t like John Ford westerns. I had seen Beasts of the Southern Wild because I like indie films with giant metaphoric pigs. And I had seen Les Misérables because I had a date, and he didn’t want to see Navy SEALs shooting Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty.
First seen after the announcement was Lincoln. Steven Spielberg’s look at the last months of the President’s life received 12 nominations, and when I left the theatre I was thinking it deserved to win every one. Then my friends and I went to a late show of Zero Dark Thirty, and I was forced to re-examine my thoughts on torture and murder and James Gandolfini. I also had to rethink my predictions. Suddenly Lincoln didn’t seem like such a clear frontrunner.
Then came Silver Linings Playbook. Mental illness has been a part of my family, although not my immediate family, for as long as I can remember, so the subject matter was both familiar and foreign. The film is a perfect example of good writing supporting good acting supporting good direction. It’s also easily the best film featuring Chris Tucker ever made.
Amour occupied my B.C. Family Day afternoon, and I am surprised to say that I found it much more fascinating than I had expected. The reviews prepared me for a slow, tragic, depressing film, but even though it was all of those things it managed to draw me in. There are two reasons for this, I think. First is Emmanuelle Riva, now the oldest Oscar nominee, who gives a stunning and exposed performance as Anne, a woman suffering from the effects of a stroke, and the second is the script, particularly two moments where Anne’s husband Georges tells stories from his past. Combined with the film’s simplicity, the script and performances make Amour the inevitable sequel to every great happy-ending romance.
Eight down, and only Life of Pi remained. I’m glad I saved it for last because while all the other nominees are great films, Life of Pi is a great film in a new way. For the first time since Hugo, a director has refrained from using 3D to bring the screen to the audience, and instead allows the audience to fall into the screen. Ang Lee keeps the camera wide and steady, allows shots to linger, and uses classic transitional effects from the era of Citizen Kane to give the audience a chance to absorb the extra dimension. It is the perfect showcase of how technology can push storytelling in powerful new ways, and heading into the final days before the ceremony, my non-existent vote goes to Life of Pi.
I could end by listing my predictions, giving everyone a chance to see how many I get wrong, but there are more than enough predictions out there already (and most of them say Argo). I’d rather point out that every year Hollywood hosts an expensive live TV event, something George C. Scott called a “meat parade,” with the goal of getting me to buy more tickets. By watching, I participate in a cycle of film consumerism that has been going on for 85 years. For this reason, some people turn up their noses, but I love it. This century-old industry is constantly reinventing itself, as these nine unique nominees prove, and after spending millions on films it costs 10 dollars for me to enjoy, they are putting on an annual event that includes all my favourite filmmakers, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, with an award presented by the cast of The Avengers. What’s not to like?